Tuesday 20 February 2018

Lowry must reconsider his position, says Martin

Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin has called on former government minister Michael Lowry to consider his position in the wake of the damning final findings of the Moriarty Tribunal.

The now independent TD has dismissed the ruling that he attempted "profound and breathtaking corruption" and stained public life with his "cynical and venal abuse" of high office.

But Mr Martin said the Tipperary North deputy should question his future in the Dail.

"I think he should consider his position in terms of the damning nature of the report," Mr Martin said.

The mammoth 2,230-page report concluded businessman Denis O'Brien passed money to former Communications Minister Mr Lowry, who was found to have helped secure the telecoms mogul a mobile phone licence 16 years ago.

Mr Lowry, an independent TD for Tipperary North since 1997, is due to meet with advisers in Dublin today.

Tribunal chairman Judge Michael Moriarty found Mr O'Brien and Mr Lowry held talks at least twice during the tender process for the state's second mobile phone licence, which was being sought by several bidders.

The tribunal said the "reprehensible" private tete-a-tete took place over half an hour in Hartigan's pub on Dublin's Leeson Street after the pair met at the All-Ireland football final in Croke Park in September 1995.

But Mr O'Brien insisted he did not pass money through secretive off-shore bank accounts to Mr Lowry.

The epic 14-year inquiry found:

- The then-minister abused his power to breach a confidential team of 10 civil servants charged with independently choosing the winning bidder and told Mr O'Brien he needed to boost his financial backing;

- Mr Lowry bypassed his Cabinet colleagues, fast-tracked the tender process and announced the winner a month before it was due, cutting short the process when the civil servants asked for more time to decide;

- The ex-Fine Gael TD fuelled a groundless rumour within government that one of the bidders would give a "nest egg" to a political opponent while highlighting links another had to the brother of a minister;

- Just weeks after Mr O'Brien's Esat Digifone was unveiled as the winning bidder in 1996, "clandestine" payments were made by him to Mr Lowry through a series of off-shore bank account transactions in Isle of Man and Jersey;

- Mr Lowry also tried to double the rental value of a property, housing state-owned Telecom Eireann, to enrich former supermarket boss and one-time IRA hostage Ben Dunne.

Mr Martin has called for the Dail to be reconvened on Monday to debate the report.

Party whips are expected to meet later today, when the timing of a Dail debate is due to take centre stage.

The Fianna Fail leader claimed he could not accept that Mr Lowry was acting independent of the then cabinet in the Rainbow Coalition.

"In terms of the behaviour of Michael Lowry, the report represents a damning indictment of his behaviour," Mr Martin told RTE Radio.

"No question about that.

"But it is also a fact that we do operate a system of collective cabinet responsibility."

Describing his involvement in the mobile phone licence tender process as "insidious and invasive", the tribunal compared the controversial Mr Lowry to the widely-reviled former Taoiseach Charles Haughey.

Mr O'Brien, whose estimated wealth is around €3bn and who was ranked by Forbes as the 254th richest man on the planet, said the Moriarty Tribunal findings were "fundamentally flawed" because they were based on opinions and theories of its chairman and his legal team.

The father of four, who is based in Malta, launched a personal assault on the credibility of Mr Moriarty and even demanded an investigation of him by his peers.

The trail of secret payments detailed by the Moriarty Tribunal and denied by Mr O'Brien include:

- IR£147,000 paid from Denis O'Brien through the late Fine Gael fundraiser David Austin to Mr Lowry in a series of offshore moves. It ended up in the Isle of Man account in Mr Lowry's name;

- £300,000 sterling put into an account held for Mr Lowry by his UK solicitor, Christopher Vaughan in 1999. It came from funds held by Mr O'Brien in the Credit Suisse First Boston in London;

- Part of that payment helped fund a £231,000 property venture in Mansfield, Derbyshire, and put down a £44,500 deposit for a property in Cheadle, Cheshire;

- A £420,000 sterling loan rushed through Woodchester Bank after it was taken control of by Investec in 2000. It was referred to as a Denis O'Brien transaction and suggested there had been support for an application for Mr Lowry to access more funds through his Vaughan account.

The judge said the payments were clearly linked to the granting of the money-spinning mobile phone licence.

Mr Lowry, who was forced to leave Fine Gael after it emerged his Tipperary home extension was funded by Mr Dunne as part of a tax scam, claimed the tribunal was biased and attempting to prove a 14-year-old theory that the licence was improperly granted.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny said lessons would have to be learnt from the report, which also outlined payments from Mr O'Brien to his Fine Gael party.

Protesting his innocence, Mr Dunne said if he was guilty of any wrongdoing, he should be prosecuted.

Press Association

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